Slice of Life #23- #WeNeedDiverseBooks Local Book Drive!

Over the next few weeks my National Honor Society students will be running a book drive for Bridge of Books [501(c)3], which is a local grassroots organization whose mission “is to provide an ongoing source of books to underprivileged and at-risk children throughout New Jersey in order to support literacy skills and to encourage a love of reading.” Our focus will be on collecting new and like-new YA books that feature diverse characters because‪ #‎WeNeedDiverseBooks‬ and the teen population is historically under-served in most of the organization’s book drives.

Bridge of Books is a fantastic organization that serves children and schools all over New Jersey.  They stock classroom libraries, which is a cause near and dear to my heart.  They also distribute books through more than 100 agencies across NJ, through the NJ Youth Corp, directly to children through schools and community outreach events, and to adult correctional facilities (to support parent/child reading programs for incarcerated parents). The organization works in cities and rural areas, even providing book delivery in most cases, with the goal of ensuring that every child owns and has access to books of their own.

Interested in contributing but not able to get to HTHS? We have a public wish list on Amazon and books can be shipped right to the school. (I know, I know…Amazon. But we don’t have a local indie and I’m hoping to save people shipping fees because it’s for charity!)

Slice of Life #22- Tired. So Tired.

Why aren’t naps a normal routine for adults?

Seriously.

I am not young enough for seventeen hour days anymore.

I am definitely not able to handle seventeen hour days without stopping for food.

When you spend all day walking and you don’t get home until 11:30pm and you eat dinner at 11:30pm and then you wake up at 8am you are very tired

Headache tired.

Heavy eyes tired.

Hard to read a book tired.

Hard to write a slice of life tired.

Where did my weekend go?

Can I get an extra day?

Please?

Why is spring break so far away?

Far, far away.

Too far away.

Tonight I will dream of sleeping in, eating a real breakfast, and not bowing to the demands of an alarm clock.

But in order to do that, I need to go to bed and fall asleep.

Good night!

Slice of Life #1- It’s Raining Birds!

I’ve been feeding the neighborhood birds since the New Year started and it’s been fabulous. My e-bird tells me I’ve identified 25 different species at my feeders! (I love citizen science!)

But today I had my coolest sighting.

I was watching my feeders for a few minutes when something suddenly dropped from the sky into the snow, landing with a thump. At first I thought it was one of resident hawks landing with an early dinner. Then I saw what looked like a mohawk on its head.

I was on the phone at the time and I threw the phone down, yelling to my mother “I have to call you back! A weird bird just fell out of the sky!”

The bird was clearly a duck, but not a duck that belonged in my yard. I belong to a few birding groups on Facebook and knew that there had been a spate of sea birds getting lost inland recently. The snow and frozen waterways make it hard to find food. I also knew some of those ducks and birds can’t take off unless they are in water. So I went outside to check on the duck ( after snapping a few photos from the window).

Thankfully, the duck flew off when I got within about 25 feet. I ran back in and uploaded my photos to Facebook. As I waited I used my Merlin bird app to try and identify the species but seeing as the duck was very out of place in my yard it didn’t work. Thank goodness for birding groups on Facebook!

 

Meet the common merganser duck. She’s female and was definitely lost. Even though she flew off I did walk the block to make sure she was safe. No sign of her so I’m hoping she made it to the creek down the street; it eventually feeds into the lake in the county park across the street.

Definitely an awesome yard bird but a bit sad, too. It turns out lots of sea birds and ducks are literally falling out of the sky in the midAtlantic. Their rivers and lakes are frozen and they are looking for food. So keep your eyes open and look a little closer at the world around you. The birds that surround us might need help this winter.

 

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Aim Higher™: A Case for Choice Reading and a Whole Lot More in AP English

thereadingzone:

This is a phenomenal blog post about choice in upper-level English courses in secondary school. As someone who Sparknoted her way though many English classes while reading hundreds of books under my desk, I say YES!

Originally posted on Three Teachers Talk:

I’m going to just say this right up front:  I hope to challenge some thinking.

I asked some friends for feedback on this post and got opposing advice. I let it rest for half a week. I prayed about it. And then today I read this post by Donalyn Miller, author of The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild. I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure she wrote it in a response to a comment on this post by Amanda Palmer, Secondary Language Arts Coordinator in Katy, TX. I’ve written about my own students and their experiences as they’ve grown as readers before at Nerdy Book Club and on this blog; and I’ve presented on how I advocate for choice in AP English at conferences.

I hope I can be a voice of reason and an inspiration for the good of all students. So, if…

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Morris Awards Finalists- An interview with Jessie Ann Foley

When the Morris Award Finalists were named I was very excited.  You see, this is one of my favorite awards given each year.  The Morris Award honors a debut book published by a first-time author and the short list is always full of exciting titles.  This year was no exception.  In fact, this year’s list was made up entirely of books I had not read yet!

The book that caught my eye immediately was The Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley. The Irish setting and the 90s music focus were unlike anything else I’ve read and I knew I had to get my hands on it. And the good news is that it totally lived up to my hopes and wishes!

coverThe Carnival at Bray is well-crafted, beautifully written, and will transport you out of your world and into Maggie’s world.  One of the best parts of the novel is the way Jessie Ann Foley captures Ireland.  Her descriptions, poetic at times, make you feel as if you are standing in the fog with Maggie.  I’ve visited Ireland twice in the last few years and Jessie Ann Foley’s words immediately brought me back.  I could smell the sea in the air, feel the damp fog on my skin, and hear the hum of the earth below me.  Anyone who has been to Ireland knows it’s unlike anywhere else on earth and it’s not easy to capture that in words.  Jessie Ann Foley does, though,

Maggie and her family move to Ireland when her mother and her new husband return to his hometown of Bray, Ireland.  This is a coming-of-age story that has major crossover appeal.  It’s a story of friendship, love, and what it’s like to be a teenager.  Maggie is trying to navigate a new life in a new country, a new family dynamic, and a new set of friends.  Her voice rings true and will grab the attention of teens and adults alike.  Jessie Ann Foley is a voice to watch!  Ireland is magical and so is The Carnival at Bray.

I’m thrilled that Jessie Ann Foley agreed to an interview today because I was dying to know more about her writing process.  She’s a high school English teacher, a debut author, and a Morris Award Finalist!

Hi jesse!  Welcome to thereadingzone and thanks for agreeing to this interview! Reading your book I was immediately transported back to Ireland.  I’ve been there twice and I even got engaged in Dublin!  What made you pick Ireland for the setting?

Thank you! I love Dublin! As far as my choice of setting: The Carnival at Bray was originally a short story that I wrote after visiting a forlorn carnival fairground in County Wicklow in 2010. I’m Irish-American, but as Maggie learns in the first chapter, that identity can have very little to do with what it means to be actually Irish, and if I had known then that I was setting myself up for the task of expanding it into an entire novel set in Ireland, I might have made things easier for myself and kept Maggie in Chicago. But then, I guess she would never have met Eoin.

I’ve been to Ireland several times, but that alone was not enough experience to allow me to write this book. My husband, who is from County Kerry, was a huge help to me. I tortured him with constant, nitpicky questions relating to word choice, slang, and authentic details: What do you call those bales of hale covered in plastic? What is the hurling equivalent of a quarterback? What kind of beverage would a young Irish kid drink if his father took him to the pub? Things like that. If there was a passage that contained lots of dialogue—Eoin’s long monologue about his mother comes to mind—my husband would read it aloud and help me figure out what needed tweaking. I was so nervous for him to read the first draft of the book, because I knew I was going to make ridiculous mistakes. But he was polite enough not to make fun of me.

Haha, that’s awesome!  The other part of the setting that I loved was the music that pulsed through the background of evey scene.  Were/are you a Kurt Cobain fan or did you find your way to him while writing?   Did you write to a specific soundtrack?

One of my favorite parts about writing is how the story can surprise you: you think it’s going to be about one thing, but then you start to discover it’s about something else. I didn’t know that my novel was going to be about music when I started writing it. But as Uncle Kevin developed into an important character, the musical angle grew with him. I had so much fun going back and listening to all my 90’s music–some of those albums I hadn’t listened to for years. I listened to a lot of Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville, the Lemonheads, Smashing Pumpkins, and of course, Nirvana, I listened many times to the live album of the Rome concert that is portrayed in the book. It all definitely brought me back–the music of your youth seems to have that power. I barely remember my first kiss. But I’ll never forget the first time I heard Pearl Jam.

We clearly have a lot in common. :)  I feel like all of my memories are set to music, so I totally understand.

Congratulations on being a Morris Award finalist!  I am so impressed that you wrote such an amazing book while being a full-time English teacher.  As I’m sitting here looking at the pile of grading I have to do I can’t imagine how you did it.  What is your writing schedule like?

Oh God, do I ever sympathize with that Sisyphean paper pile.I don’t think anyone truly understands the grading situation of a high school English teacher except other high school English teachers. My writing schedule has changed after the publication of The Carnival at Bray because I had my first baby shortly after we finished the edits (talk about a non-negotiable deadline!). Now I just write whenever I possibly can. When I was teaching full-time, pre-baby, it took me about a year to write the book. I worked every day when I got home from school, usually until my husband got home from work. On days off or school breaks, I wrote as much as I could, unless, of course, I had papers to grade :)

That leads me to my next questions. Have your students read your book?  Or are you a secret celebrity? :)

Well, I’m currently out on maternity leave, but my school’s book club is reading the book right now! Some of my former students have read the book, and it was really cool to hear from them about it. Last year, I showed my class the three potential covers of the novel, just to get their input. Their favorite cover was the one that my publisher ended up choosing, so that was really fun!

I can imagine!  What an exciting time for you and your students!  Thanks again for agreeing to this interview.  I know I will be waiting with bated breath on the day the award is announced. And just for fun, one last question. What is your favorite food to snack on while you are writing?

Those sugar cookies that have like an inch of colored frosted on the top, washed down with an ice cold Diet Coke. I’m a health nut, clearly.

Thank you to Jessie Ann Foley for writing an incredible book and agreeing to today’s interview!  Be sure to check out the rest of the Morris Award Finalists blog tour this week!  You can see the schedule on the Cinco Puntos Press blog.

Tuck Everlasting….continued

thereadingzone:

In honor of the 40th anniversary of Tuck Everlasting, one of my all-time favorite books, here is a blast from the past post. Back in 2007 I was teaching 6th grade and Tuck was the first novel I read with my students.

Originally posted on The Reading Zone:

In class, we have been doing a close reading of “Tuck Everlasting” for the last few days.  We re-read the Prologue and Chapter 1, annotating when necessary.  It is so amazing to hear my students say, “Wow!  I didn’t even realize that circle had meaning the first time I read it!”  I think they are starting to understand the need to sometimes re-read parts of a book, especially when you want to clarify certain points or respond to the book in writing.  This is a skill they will need to hone as they move through the middle school and high school and one they aren’t explicitly taught at any grade level.  I am having so much fun with it!

Today, we read an excerpt from “Circling Tuck: An Interview with Natalie Babbitt” from Horn Book in 2000.  The interview is wonderful and Babbitt shares a lot of great…

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#NeverForget

(A version of this was originally written on 9/11/03, on my personal blog. It has been edited for this posting. I have reposted some version every year since 2003.)

the view I see each year from the beach at home.


I can’t forget. This morning, between classes I was sitting in my car listening to the radio. I listened to the children read off the names of those who perished in the WTC disaster. As I listened to the small voices read the thousands of names, tears ran down my cheeks. I managed to miss hearing the names of anyone I knew, but still…….

I can remember that day like it was yesterday. I remember eating breakfast with one of my best friends, Erin (we barely even knew each other at the time, having moved into our freshman year dorms only a few days earlier). The dining hall had talk radio playing over the speakers and they were talking about the WTC bombing. I remember Erin and I wondering why they were talking about something that had happened in 1993. We tuned out the radio as it became nothing more than white noise in the background.  Quickly, we finished breakfast and I went to my Women and Public Policy class.

As my classmates settled into seats in the small lecture hall, our TA, Jen, apologized for having to keep her cell phone on during class. She explained that she had flight reservations later that day, and she needed to keep up on any airport delays due to the incident in the city. That was the first that I heard about a plane crash, as the TV in my room wasn’t hooked up yet. (We had moved in only days earlier). But everyone in class seemed fairly calm. We talked about what had happened for a few minutes, but most of us assumed it was just an errant pilot; a tragedy, but nothing too life-changing for the majority of us. So from 9:50-10:30am we continued on with our normal class schedule, discussing women in the current political system. As class ended I remember walking back to the dorm, over the Hickman Bridge, and hearing people around me say classes were canceled for the rest of the day. Yet I still really had no idea what was going on.

I walked back to my dorm on the other side of campus planning to turn on the news while I got organized for the day. Then I remembered that I didn’t even have a tv (stupid no cable in the dorms). As I walked into the building, you could sense the panic. The stress and tension in the air was palpable.   I walked up the 3 flights of stairs to my room and immediately saw that my answering machine was blinking wildly. Each message was from my mother, trying to get in touch with me. I grabbed my cell phone to call her back, but by that time the lines were down.

As I kept hitting the redial button I watched my floormates pace up and down the halls. One of the girls walked past my door no less than 20 times in 2 minutes. She was trying to get ahold of her father, who worked in the Towers. Others were just trying to find their parents even if they didn’t work in the city. Unable to get through to anyone on the phone, I took my cell phone and walked back downstairs to the lounge and sat on the couch with my dormmates, staring at the images that were being flashed on every station on our common room TV. No one spoke.

Still dialing, I headed back upstairs to my computer, sure that I would be able to find more information on the internet. The news anchors were so unsure and so frightened. I finally got through to my mother (while reloading news sites over and over) and she was relieved to hear from me. She told me you could see the flames from the beach by our house, and that there was a huge cloud of smoke and a smell enveloping Middletown. She asked if I wanted to come home, and while I considered it,  I chose to stay.  I wanted to be with my friends, and admit that the idea of driving home was frightening.  None of us knew what was happening or what would happen.

The panic in my dorm just increased all afternoon. My friends and I sat in stunned silence watching the television coverage. At one point, military planes flew over the campus, and people ran for the basement. No one knew what would happen next. That sense of terror was something unimaginable only hours before.

We watched the news for hours on end. I IM’ed and recieved IMs from friends who were at school in the city. People I hadn’t talked to in months came to mind. I went to a tiny high school, 60 kids to a graduating class, and our network of students was reaching out to one another. We just needed to know that everyone was all right. I remember the anxiety we felt while we checked on all the Maryland people, friends who went to school near the Pentagon and Washington, DC. Eighteen years old and we were frantically searching for people just to make sure they were still there.

I will never forget signing on to our high school email network and reading the the public announcements, a forum usually reserved for messages about upcoming school dances and PTA fundraisers.  The tragedy began to hit home as some of my peers posted messages asking for the readers to look for names on lists- parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins. As new lists were posted in the media it became more and more apparent that some of those who were missing would not be coming home that night.  This wasn’t supposed to happen to people you knew…

Only a few minutes later my mother got through to me again, telling me that my brother’s best friend’s dad was missing. That’s when I made the decision. I went home.

I stayed home. School was canceled. The next few days were filled with phone calls “Did anyone hear anything? Any word?” My mother told me how on September 11th, ferries came from the city to the our harbor. Ferries that were based all over NY just packed with passengers from NYC. People who just had to get somewhere besides Manhattan. They stumbled off the boats- people covered in ash, people in shock. They were hosed down immediately by men and women in hazmat suits, for fear that they were carrying biological agents.

The papers talked about how Middletown was the town in NJ hit the hardest by the tragedy. We lost so many. So many people from my church, people I knew from middle school and high school. Parents, siblings, friends, colleagues all of them.

Then, my worst fears were realized. A friend was put on active duty. Along with all this tragedy, I had to deal with the idea that one of my best friends could be sent into the city. At that time, it was a terrifying thought.  Would NYC be hit again? Were we safe?

Later, I learned that another friend had worked at the pier in Jersey City on September 11. Unloading and loading ferries and boats, for days at a time. But her story had a happy ending- she became engaged when she grew closer to a friend who took care of her at the time.

My brother spent days with his then-girlfriend and their best friend. A sophomore in high school and he was trying to hold up his friends while they learned that a parent was never coming home. I admired my brother immensely for the strength he showed in those days. He grew up more than I ever knew he could.

We all grew up.

And we will never forget.
God Bless all those lost on 9-11-01……

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My current don’t have any memories of this day in history.  September 11th is history to them, something they read about each year and pass memorials for in their towns. It’s something their parents and other adults talk about.  The visual of a plane hitting the towers live on television isn’t part of their life.  That’s something I can’t imagine.  I knew this day was coming but it’s so foreign to me and I just can’t believe that there are people here, in my area of NJ, who don’t remember September 11th.  Today is September 11th “capital letter because it’s a month” not September 11th “a day that changed our lives forever so it has forever been ingrained in our minds”.

For me, it is hard to fathom not being able to articulate exactly where I was that day, that hour, that minute.  While I am glad they have no memory of the terror our nation, especially the tri-state area, experienced that day, it still leaves me stunned.  It’s such an integral part of my life that I can’t imagine it not being a cornerstone in others’ lives.  Yet I am grateful for that blessing, too.  September 11th will always be a day that stops me in my tracks but I am glad that it’s history for my students.  I hope they never experience anything like we all did on that day.

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